I am in a class on Russian fairytales (which, if you were wondering, dark stuff) and one of the big things we’ve been seeing is that fairytale characters are pretty one dimensional. It’s actually one element used to identify something as a fairy tale. This has been difficult for me. I tend to automatically dissect things and look for metaphors where there are none. As an actor I have been taught that characters are people and are emotionally complex, behind every layer is another layer, a phycological puzzle to be solved. As a writer I have the same philosophy, but instead of cracking the code I am the one writing it. Now I’m being told not to search for emotional depth because honestly all these guys named Ivan are just guys named Ivan who go on adventures and usually get married. I mean I’m not asking for your darkest secrets, Ivan the Peasant’s Son, we could just start with a favorite color?
Anyway, I can’t change years of storytelling to suit my personal literary tastes, blah blah blah. I know. This comes to mind right now because I’ve just finished writing a very short fairytale in the style of the Russian fairytales. It was an assignment for class of course. Our big project for the class is going to be writing a fairytale, but this was a group project. My group basically just brainstormed, laughed about the absolutely ridiculous characters that show up in these fairytales, and came up with a plot outline and then I took all that and wrote the thing. Because that’s what happens when you’re the creative writing major in the group. It was pretty fun, but again there was that whole “no complex characters” thing.
And it’s totally counterintuitive! It was such an interesting exercise to literally have to go out of my way not to develop my characters. I mean, I think I did okay, only three of them have names and two of those of characters that reappear throughout all Russian fairytales, so that doesn’t really count. This whole thing makes me think of infuriating but fun little exercises I’ve been given by various writing teachers, like “Write about something you love like you hate it”. I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this before, but the test of creativity appears to be how you manage outside your sphere of comfort, rather than how you thrive within it.
The name of my group’s original fairytale is “So that’s why I needed the duck!“. Just gonna put that out into the universe.